My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

Let’s not be lit snobs

Illuminae

Recently, I borrowed Illuminae from the library and found this note inside: “So cool! But is it literature? Is this the future of novels?”

I promptly took a photo and then crumpled the note into a ball and threw it away.

Because ugh. Who cares about these things? I doubt that authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff were writing the book and thinking to themselves, “Gosh, is this literature? Are we writing literature right now?” and patting themselves on the back.

My fiancée and I rolled our eyes. We started making jokes. We pointed at our cats and said, “So cool! But is this cat? Is this the future of cat?”

The future of cat

The note has a tone of condescension that basically says, “Gee, I see why you like this. Space is nifty, especially to teens like you! But let’s think seriously now. Is this good? Is this actually worth our time?”

Because literature = good and non-literature = bad, obviously.

As for the “future of novels” jab, that’s in reference to Illuminae’s unique format. It’s a story told through emails, interview transcripts, diary entries, Wikipedia articles, etc. These resources 1) make you feel like you’re right there, living through this cataclysmic space event with the survivors, and 2) create the intentional feeling of a historical record. It’s an objective collection of very subjective witness accounts.

So look. Whoever wrote this, I have a message for you: Stop patronizing teens (and oh hey, adults too) for what they want to read. Stop acting like the content and the format is so inferior that you have to question, “Golly, is this going to be our standards for novels now?” because you’re not reading Dickens or Twain or Joyce. No one is worried about this except for you.

I threw your note in the trash as a favor to the readers that matter — the readers who love to read, the teens who read, the adults who read, and who shouldn’t have to feel bad about that no matter what books they choose.

Please don’t be a lit snob.

Your first novel isn’t any good

Author and YouTuber Travis McBee said in a recent video that no one should publish their first book. At times like these, I’m reminded of those old Animaniacs skits:

Doing nothing with your novel — good idea or bad idea?

Travis argued that “if it’s your first book, it’s not good. It’s not nearly as good as your third or fourth book will be. Do not publish it — you will regret it.”

He says instead to do a rewrite and then set it aside — then repeat for at least one more book after that. His point is that your skills will grow dramatically from your first book to your second, and your second to your third. Publishing that rough, early work will turn off readers who may otherwise become loyal fans if only you had waited until your skills advanced.

I … totally agree with him. Rarely are debut published novels actually a writer’s first novel. More often, it’s their second or third — or twentieth.

The first novel I completed was crap. At the time, I didn’t realize that, but I can pretty much look back on that manuscript now and shrug my shoulders and nod my head. Yep. Terrible.

Why was it terrible? Because your first novel is often your “practice novel.” You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in it. And it’s not that those mistakes can’t be fixed — if you really wanted to, you could spend years performing major reconstructive surgery on them. But there’s only so much you can do for a body that’s badly broken.

For me, the clincher was that I no longer enjoyed my novel after writing it. I was bored by it, and I didn’t care about the characters. Not really. I didn’t believe in my story anymore.

It only took me a few years of procrastinating in revisions to figure that out for myself.

Travis’s advice is to move on — shelve that novel, at least for now, and write something new. There’s a big chance it’ll be much, much better. Your first novel isn’t the only novel you have in you — it’s not your “one and only” dream book. Trust me. Your imagination’s a lot bigger than that.

Interview with YouTuber and Keeper author Kim Chance

I’ve only found a few YouTubers who I absolutely adore and who consistently vlog about writing, but the good ones are good, folks.

Kim Chance is one of my favorites. She’s the author of an upcoming young adult book called Keeper, which she’s currently querying to agents. And she’s just an all-around sweet and positive person, in her videos, on social media, and in email when I approached her about doing an interview. Take a load of these answers!

kim-chanceCan you share a little about yourself?

Hi all! My name is Kim, and I’m a 30-year-old military wife, twin mommy, and high school English/reading teacher.

Here are 10 fun/random facts about me!

1) I have a type A personality which means I am ridiculously organized and really enjoy making lists (bullet points make me happy) and color-coding things.

2) I ADORE red lipstick and polka dots. (If I had a time machine, I would travel back to the 40s in a heartbeat!)

3) My homemade mac and cheese is so good, it will make you want to slap your Mama!

4) I’m originally from Alabama, so I tend to talk in southern colloquialisms (see previous)!  Side Note: Yes, I have all my teeth, and no, I did not marry my cousin.  :)

5) My husband calls me “Muttley” because when I get to laughing really hard, hardly any sound comes out.

6) My favorite word in the English language is “irrevocable.” I love the way it rolls off the tongue. “Superfluous” is a close second.

7)I was once “hypnotized” at an event and sang “Oops, I Did It Again” it front of hundreds of people.

8) TV Shows I Fangirl Over: Outlander, Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Reign, Downtown Abbey, & Once Upon a Time.

9) I cry during Disney movies — Every. Single. Time.

10) I like dinosaurs and zombies…just not together.

How did you get into creative writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Writing has always been something that I use to help me process the world around me. I have boxes of old journals and diaries I kept as a kid. However, I didn’t really get into creative writing until after I was married. My husband was deployed, and I spent a lot of time reading. I came up with an idea one day and a friend suggested I try writing it down. The rest is history!

You’re currently querying a novel called Keeper. What’s the book about? 

keeper

Oh goodness! I am so terrible at describing it! Haha! I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I have always struggled with this. Here’s my blurb:

Magic always leaves a mark.

When the ghost of a 200-year-old witch attacks her on the road, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. But even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to buy in to all that “hocus pocus nonsense” — until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

After the library archives and even Google come up empty, Lainey gives in and consults a psychic. There she discovers that, like her mother, she’s a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous spell book. But the Grimoire is missing, stolen years ago by a malevolent warlock known as the Master. Now that Lainey’s true heritage has been uncovered, she’s the Master’s only hope in opening the Grimoire, where a powerful spell is locked inside — a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world’s magic. In an effort to force her hand, the Master kidnaps Lainey’s uncle and offers a trade: the spell for his life.

With the help of her comic-book-loving, adventure-hungry best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave behind her life of books and studying to prepare for the biggest test of all. She must steal back the book … before her uncle and the entire supernatural race pay the Master’s price.

What is one thing you have absolutely loved about the process of writing Keeper, and what’s one thing that’s been a challenge for you?

I think the thing I have loved the most is watching the story take on a life of its own. It’s come SO far since the original concept, and even from draft to draft it has truly evolved. I never thought I could write a story like this. It has pushed me and challenged me so much, but I am so incredibly proud of it.

As for the challenges … well, gosh! There were just so many! Haha! One thing I really struggled with was my own stubbornness. Last year, I had several people tell me that they were struggling to connect with my main character, Lainey — this was when the book was still written in 3rd person. It was suggested to me multiple times that 1st person would allow readers to get in her head more. However, I was super resistant to this. I’d always imagined the story in 3rd and thinking about rewriting it in a different POV freaked me out! I fought it for a really long time until my editor, who I respect highly, made the same suggestion. I realized that I needed to stop being so stubborn and try to look at things objectively. When I was able to do that, I saw just how right those early readers had been. I made the decision to rewrite my entire book in first-person, and I am so glad I did. It revolutionized my book and the story is a million times better this way. So don’t be afraid to take risks. They can really pay off in the end!

You maintain a YouTube channel where you share advice on writing and chronicle your journey with Keeper. What have you learned from your foray into vlogging? 

I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from vlogging is just how important it is for writers to find an active community to take part in. So many people have reached out to me and expressed how alone they felt until watching my vlogs and realizing that they weren’t the only ones feeling that way. Writing is so incredibly difficult and you need a support system. I’m happy to keep making videos if it means that I’m helping and supporting fellow writers.

I’ve also learned that you have to have some pretty thick skin. While 90% of my audience is incredibly kind and supportive, there are still those who go out of their way to be hateful and negative. I’m a super sensitive person, and it’s really hard not to get my feelings hurt when someone leaves a mean comment on one of my videos. I try not to take it personally though, and my own personal mantra is to always have courage and be kind. When people are ugly to me, I just make a point to pour out as much kindness into the world as I can. The world needs more kindness.

What advice would you give other writers looking to take the plunge and join YouTube?

Go for it! It’s a little intimidating putting yourself out there, but it’s also a lot of fun and super rewarding. My best advice is to be consistent, do your research so your content is quality, and put your personality into it! Also, don’t give up if your channel doesn’t take off right away. It takes time to build an audience. Be patient and don’t quit too soon!

You’re also active on social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. What best practices have you learned firsthand about engaging with these different communities?

Marketing yourself on social media takes a lot of time! I didn’t realize how time consuming it would be to keep so many different platforms updated and current. It’s so much fun connecting with people, but it also requires a lot of time and attention. My best advice is to pick 1-2 nights a week that you devote to social media. I’m always looking for people to chat with and I make sure to respond to everyone if I can. I adore being part of the writing community and I want everyone to feel included! I also make it a rule to not feed the trolls. I don’t respond to negativity unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. There are better things I can do with my time. I also think consistency is key here as well.

Do you have any advice for writers who are a little puzzled over how to “brand” themselves as a writer on social media?

I think the word “brand” is a little scary sounding and confusing. What it really means (to me anyway) is making connections with people. The best thing you can do for yourself and your writing career is simply to strike up conversations with people! I am always on the lookout for new writerly friends and people I can talk to about my publishing journey. Be yourself and be authentic–don’t try to force something that isn’t you. It takes time to build a community (I like that word better than brand, don’t you?), but all it really takes is personality, conversation, and authenticity. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

As for the more official “branding,” I would suggest creating a website and giving all of your social media pages the same design elements. I use the same profile picture for my pages and try to use similar design elements on each — this helps people to recognize me and make connections to things they may have seen on other pages. Cross-posting helps too.

I think it’s incredibly brave that you’re putting your efforts out there as you search for an agent and publisher for Keeper. A lot of writers would be afraid to take their journey public because so many of us fear failure. How do you overcome that fear? Is broadcasting what happens with Keeper about personal accountability (ie., a way to commit yourself to completing the book), or about something else?

I don’t know that I’ve necessarily overcome my fear. I just think my determination to see my dream realized is a lot bigger than any doubt or worry I might struggle with. I’m not special, really. I fear failure just like everyone else, but I think the difference is that I refuse to let that fear stand in my way. I think every writer just has to come to that place where they realize that the feeling of regret is far worse than taking a chance and not being successful. I would rather try and fail a thousand times than live my life knowing I let fear stop me from reaching my dreams.

As far as the videos go, there is a bit of personal accountability wrapped up in them, but it’s also about being honest and open in regards to the process. I think a lot writers feel very alone in their journey and I’m hoping by sharing my experiences that those writers will feel a sense of community. I have a heart for people, especially writers and I want to support and encourage as many as I can! We’re all in this together!

In your latest vlog, you talk about how you have often felt alone as a writer. I think a lot of writers are right there with you. If you could send a message to all the aspiring writers in the world, what would you tell them?

Remember, nothing worth having comes easy. I can’t promise you that you won’t face hardships. I can’t guarantee that you won’t want to quit a thousand different times. I won’t lie to you and tell you that everyone will always love your work — they won’t. And I certainly won’t tell you that this path is going to be simple — it’s not. BUT I can promise you that this journey is so worth it in the end! There is no greater feeling than finishing your manuscript and knowing that you’ve done what so many attempt, but never accomplish.

You are AMAZING, and the best advice I can give you is to keep writing and never give up! If you want something bad enough, you CAN achieve it. It takes hard work, but YOU CAN DO IT. I believe in you!  Just remember this: Dreams don’t work unless you do! So, never stop writing! Never give up, never give in! You got this!

Even famous authors like J.K. Rowling deal with rejection

Cuckoo's Calling

Rejection is the scariest part of anyone’s writing journey. It’s at the core of why we procrastinate — we’re afraid of what people will think. That they won’t like what we’ve written. That we won’t even like it. Rejection is synonymous with failure … right?

Wrong.

Rejection is just an agent or publisher saying, “Sorry, dude, not our thing right now.” It’s not an indelible mark that your story sucks, or that no one will ever want to buy it. Even if they were to tell you that outright, their word isn’t law.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone has the guts to tell another person that they shouldn’t be writing, or that their work belongs in the trash. THIS IS NOT TRUE, and it’s both immature and unprofessional. Plenty of the world’s most successful people were told they wouldn’t make it, but nobody gets to make that call for you.

With experience, you’re going to get better. Anyone who tells you otherwise is making an extremely biased judgment based on what they see at that exact moment. They’re not considering how you’re going to improve in a month or a year. And chances are they’re just projecting some insecurity about their own writing.

Rejection is just another step in the process. It’s the Magic 8-Ball telling you, “Sorry, try again” — you’ve got more work to do. The next best move is to keep querying (and polishing your query letter) and keep editing your manuscript.

Even big authors like J.K. Rowling have to deal with rejection. It doesn’t go away no matter how successful you are. What’s important isn’t whether you’re rejected or not — it’s whether or not you can persevere in spite of it.

At some point, you’re allowed to shelve the project and move on to writing something new. But be sure that’s what you want and not something you feel cornered into doing because you’ve accumulated a pile of rejection letters.

As long as you believe in the story you wrote and you’re still excited about it, keep trying.

Has someone ever told you that you wouldn’t succeed? How did you deal with that rejection? Let me know if the comments!

A cool writing technique from Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Let’s talk about Margaret Atwood.

I recently read her for the first time — The Handmaid’s Tale, which is now one of my favorite books (here’s my review on Goodreads if you’re curious). So I only just discovered that she’s the bomb.

She made a style choice near the end of the book that I thought was particularly clever. (Atwood does a lot of clever things, a lot of the time.) Take a look (no spoilers):

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door there. He opens it himself, who else was I expecting? There’s a lamp on, only one but enough light to make me blink. I look past him, not wanting to meet his eyes. It’s a single room, with a fold-out bed, made up, and a kitchenette counter at the far end, and another door that must lead to the bathroom. This room is stripped down, military, minimal.  No pictures on the walls, no plants. He’s camping out. The blanket on the bed is gray and says U.S.

He steps back and aside to let me pass. He’s in his shirt sleeves, and is holding a cigarette, lit. I smell the smoke on him, in the warm air of the room, all over. I’d like to take off my clothes, bathe in it, rub it over my skin.

No preliminaries; he knows why I’m here. He doesn’t even say anything, why fool around, it’s an assignment. He moves away from me, turns off the lamp. Outside, like punctuation, there’s a flash of lightning; almost no pause and then the thunder. He’s undoing my dress, a man made of darkness, I can’t see his face, and I can hardly breathe, hardly stand, and I’m not standing. His mouth is on me, his hands, I can’t wait and he’s moving, already, love, it’s been so long, I’m alive in my skin, again, arms around him, falling and water softly everywhere, never-ending. I knew it might only be once.

Now look at how the narrator retells the scene:

I made that up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what happened.

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door. He opens it himself. There’s a lamp on; I blink. I look past his eyes, it’s a single room, the bed’s made up, stripped down, military. No pictures but the blanket says U.S. He’s in his shirt sleeves, he’s holding a cigarette.

“Here,” he says to me, “have a drag.” No preliminaries, he knows why I’m here. To get knocked up, to get in trouble, up the pole, those were all names for it once. I take the cigarette from him, draw deeply in, hand it back. Our fingers hardly touch. Even that much smoke makes me dizzy.

The scene continues from here, but can you see the difference? Atwood begins by rewriting the scene in the same way, only with less emotion — less romance, less sexiness, less intimacy. We can assume this is the more accurate version of events. She drops a lot of details, which makes the experience seem less personal.

The next time you’re writing a scene, you can change how the reader perceives it by looking at the difference between Atwood’s two versions. A scene that’s supposed to be special and memorable has more detail, more emotion, and longer sentences. But a scene that’s almost businesslike or routine, that’s almost uncomfortable? Short sentences, few details, and impersonal qualities (“Our fingers hardly touch. Even that much smoke makes me dizzy.”).

Has an author ever introduced you to a new writing technique that you enjoyed?

Why I’m rethinking how I buy books in 2016

bookshelves

Every book lover wishes they had beautiful, wall-to-ceiling bookshelves stacked with glossy hardcovers and pristine paperbacks. Another book haul from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, another five or six novels for the shelf.

I’ve not any different, especially when I watch my favorite Booktubers and wonder, “How the heck can they afford this many books?”

Like most people, I’m on a budget. That’s why last year, when my boyfriend and I moved to a new house conveniently located a few blocks from a library, we both invested in library cards. This means I can request books on my phone and then walk five minutes to pick them up once they arrive. This was probably the best decision I made in 2015 financially. (Total, I read 39 books in 2015, and a lot of those I obtained through my local library.)

Borrowing books means I save a lot of money. That also means that I don’t need to scrimp by purchasing books on Amazon for super cheap instead of better institutions, like neighborhood bookstores or other, less dominant online retailers — which tend to sell books for twice the cost but are better alternatives. I don’t have to buy books at all if I don’t want to (although every now and then I cave and pick up a couple, especially when I trek out to Half Price Books).

But never buying books doesn’t sit well with me because then I’m not supporting my favorite authors. That’s why, in 2016 and on, I plan to change how I buy books altogether and how I fill my bookshelves. With the exception of books I can’t find in my local library, I’m only going to buy books on one of two conditions: 1) I already know I love the author and want to support them by purchasing their work, or 2) I’ve read the book previously and adored it.

This works especially well for me because, for one, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, and I only own a couple of bookshelves anyway — so space is limited. This way, I can also give back to my favorite authors and cultivate a home library of my absolute favorites. I don’t re-read books very often, but I like to admire the ones on my shelves and maybe pass them on to my future kids for them to enjoy. A lot of books I tend to keep also possess sentimental importance to me, so there’s that, too.

How do you determine what books you buy? Are you making any changes to your purchasing habits this year?

Happy new year! My first book of 2015 (plus the best writing device ever)

Happy new year, whoooo! As today’s the last day of my holiday vacation, I wanted to squeeze in a book and kick off 2015. I don’t know how many books you resolved to read this year, but the first one matters, doesn’t it?

On Writing by Stephen KingI chose Stephen King’s On Writing, a memoir and writing advice book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while and finally found discounted at Half-Price Books (I love that store). I enjoyed it so much that I finished it within 24 hours — not that it’s long (about 300 pages), but books that grab me like that are hard to come by.

A good chunk of On Writing is about Stephen King’s life growing up, which is far from boring. His whole purpose is to show how he as a writer was formed (writers aren’t “made”), and with 20/20 hindsight, he connects certain habits and events from his childhood and early adulthood with the shaping of the best-selling author he became. He was writing long before Carrie, in other words, and although he loved (and continues to love) movies, he learned to turn off the television early in life (it’s a killer to productivity).

The other parts of the book deal with his tips on writing and a good bit about his own process, which are probably the most valuable sections. Some of the final pages discuss his accident in 1999, when a man driving a blue van hit him while he was walking on a road in Maine, and how writing helped him through his painful recovery.

Probably my favorite section, which is even smaller, is a look at the editing process: King gives you several pages of a story (“1408,” as it happens) unedited and then provides a marked-up version and explains the revisions. One fundamental rule: Omit needless words. Another? Kill your adverbs (those pesky -ly words).

Some of the writing advice is common: Kill your darlings. Use strong verbs. Know your grammar. The rest is a hell of a lot of tough love. At some points I found King’s attitude a little snobby — he thinks we all should be writing unplotted novels, but we’re not all Stephen Kings, Stephen King — but other times he was humble and modest, and above all I think he’s probably right. Here’s a few of the passages that I dog-eared:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools your plan to work with.

So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.

Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind — they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best — always, always, always — when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.

Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in a book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story.

Some ideas that King thinks are overrated: writing workshops, characters based on real life (not that you can’t take inspiration from people you know), the phrase “write what you know” (thank you!), plot (he writes everything from situation and character, but I think that’s a very advanced technique), and theme (it comes sooner or later — don’t sweat if you don’t know it right away, as it follows with the story).

A couple tenets he repeats often: Be honest in your writing (even if it will make people uncomfortable). Put the story first. Include only the description details that come to mind. And use the vocabulary you mean to — don’t dress it up to make yourself sound smart.

It’s a honest book full of advice that can be hard to hear, but that’s tough love, baby.

One thing I’ll note for anyone who’s curious about routine: King says read a lot and write a lot. He admitted to reading around 60-70 books a year, but I think your own pace is just fine. How much should you write every day? As much as you can, but I’ve seen 1,000 words pop up more than once. I think what’s important isn’t the word count you achieve but that you stick with it every day so that you establish a routine — whether that’s with the writing (door closed, as King says) or the editing (door open). Same with reading: Turning off the television and reading regularly helps you get into the right mindset for writing. And resist to the temptation to show anyone your draft until it’s done — or don’t dare talk about it. That’s my advice — like with New Year’s resolutions, if you share that you’re writing a novel, that’s when it dies.

So get yourself a copy of King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft this year. And remember, you can read and talk about writing all you like, but the best way to learn it is to do it. For that I went on eBay and bought myself an AlphaSmart Neo. An author I follow recommended it for distraction-free writing, and it’s great. They don’t make them new anymore, but the company still supports it with documentation and so on. It’s basically a keyboard and a small screen, and it’s good for cranking out a draft of a chapter or whatever (so not for revising). You can’t connect to the Internet, and it’s light-weight (and inexpensive) enough that you won’t mind carting it around everywhere with you. It’s like the Hemingwrite, only more practical and much more reasonably priced (I paid $22, although most I’ve seen are around $40 — Hemingwrites will be $400-500). All you need is the Neo and a USB cord (the one that comes with your computer’s printer should work well).

I’ve used it and can vouch that yes, it’s damn good at helping you get the words out. It’s a lot better than staring at a blank white page and that goddamned blinking cursor (how it mocks you). You won’t be tempted to mess around with the font for half an hour. And uploading it to your computer (in any word processor — I use Scrivener) is easy once you find the right cable (B type, 2.0, I believe, but I bought two wrong USB cords before I figured that out).

You can’t store thousands and thousands of words, but you can save up to eight different files, and it has an autosave feature and a battery life like whoa (a year at least on three AAs). The keyboard is comfy, and you can adjust the font size and contrast (no backlight, though). Here’s a good Q&A guide.

Happy writing (and reading)! What book are your reading first in 2015?

It’s totally OK to burn these books

Game of Thrones candle book

When burned, these books give off a charming smell.

Like pumpkin souffle, clean cotton, and ocean breeze.

These are the smells of Hagrid’s Pumpkin Patch, Dobby’s Socks, and Gatsby’s Shoreline — all candles, and all great holiday gift ideas.

You can also find lip balms and wax tarts in the Etsy seller’s shop, From the Page.

Plague World: What constitutes a ‘good’ book ending?

tackyIn August, author Dana Fredsti released Plague World, the third and final novel in her Ashley Parker girl-kicks-zombie-butt series. Years ago, the first book, Plague Town, caught me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting something so good — Resident Evil novelizations have taught me that zombie fiction is usually kind of corny, while The Walking Dead comics and countless movies about the undead have convinced me that any visual probably suits the genre best.

Thankfully, I was wrong, and the Ashley Parker series is as good or better than any zombie movie (although it’s still a little corny, in a good, fully-conscious-of-its-corniness way of course).

Still, as much as I love Fredsti’s writing, I was a teensy bit hard on the second book, Plague Nation. I was worried that — with the zombie outbreak spreading so fast and then going airborne — maybe this thing was getting too out of hand for her or any of the characters to manage.

I didn’t know it then, but that was kind of the point.

plague town

Not everyone was happy about the trilogy’s ending. One reader on Goodreads left a one-star review (warning: it’s here, but spoilers!) and asked, “How on earth is that conceivably a good ending? An appropriate one? I … I can’t even … I’m so pissed off I wasted all this time just to end up with THAT! […] I will NEVER recommend this series to anyone (even my enemies) again. It was that wrong. If I could go back in time and unread the Ashley Parker series I would.”

So, yeah, strong reaction.

Let me first say that, without revealing any specific details, I thought Dana Fredsti did a beautiful job on the ending to Plague World. So big hint here: Somebody dies. Was I shocked by what happened? Yes. Was I OK with this death? Not so much, and I can understand why someone else might outraged.

But was it a good ending? Yes, yes, yes — because first, it was indeed “appropriate.” OK, minor spoilers here, but not really: It’s an apocalypse. People tend to die. Secondly, the ending wasn’t good because the characters died or lived. It was good because it was believable. I was expecting Fredsti to try to find a way to “resolve” the huge Zombie problem with a capital Z, but that wasn’t giving her enough credit. Would we be able to fix something like that in real life with a wink and two swings of a paragraph? No, I don’t think so. The consequences of a catastrophe that huge would last a long time.

I understand the reviewer’s disappointment. I even understand her anger. But to say that the ending wasn’t worth the journey because you disagreed with it — well, that’s like saying your whole life is shit just because something bad happens. And, hey, we all totally do that sometimes. I’m as guilty as anyone. But you’re going to drive yourself crazy unless you realize that you got some good stuff out of the experience, too, and maybe you learned something, and that has to be enough. Life isn’t fair, and frankly, the author doesn’t owe you anything — except maybe a conclusion to all hanging plot threads (which Fredsti addressed). Be happy you got a third book at all.

Take The Hunger Games, for example. I love that trilogy. But hell if I don’t think Mockingjay is the biggest insult to Katniss and readers everywhere. Do I hate it so much that I wish Collins had never even bothered, or that I hadn’t read a single word? No. Because the story wasn’t a waste. It provided me with some entertainment for a while, and I got to disappear into a world and become close to imaginary characters that mean so much to readers that they might as well be real. It’s the mark of a good author when you give a shit what happens to a character. If you’re angry or sad or scared or even happy — the author has done her job.

So if Fredsti made that reviewer that upset, she obviously wrote some good characters because the reader was attached to them. But to wish you had never picked up those books and met those characters is like saying you wished you had never met Dumbledore or — hell — anyone in real life. Because we all die sometime. And we’re all worth knowing, for however long or short of a time that we’re here.

Grade: B